THE UNTAMED ALASKAN ARCTIC
This is a snapshot of one of most hostile and challenging expeditions of mine.... An Expedition to the Arctic -
The Fragile World of the Polar Bears at Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean, Alaska, USA.
As I sat locked in my very small warm cabin starting to write this small note, a strong gust of wind and a blast of snow constantly bombarded my glass window. This is definitely a clear signal that an early cold winter was fast approaching this year at the Northern Slope of Alaska in Deadhorse on the Arctic coast.
The weather has been very hostile and harsh since we landed in Fairbanks. Still, we risked and drove the entire James Dalton Highway, a distance of 666km in moments of torrential rain, frigid ice and bad unstable gravel road surface. We reached the Yukon river and noted some close movements of Grizzly Bears around Wiseman. A bear had looted a café shop and broke their coffee machine inside it. Direct sightings though were not present but damage were noted and covered. We started off and crossed the alpine cover and climbed up the treacherous Atigun Pass, An Avalanche Zone! Tyres here slips and heavy trucks are chained up the gradient. We passed through the Brooks Range with a sudden red fox sighting by the creek to reach a place away from modern lifestyles into a white snowy world of the Arctic. We saw a group of Muskox and migratory geese flying back to warmer winter homes as we reached the Arctic shore - Deadhorse. The day we reached, stormy weather gripped us hard. This weather disturbance was basically due to a cold front that has hit the entire northern Alaska.
3days we were locked in a little rest house fighting against all odds to reach the island and seek key data from the secret lives of the polar bear sub-population in the Beaufort Sea. This was part of my only Polar Bear expedition that would track the bears during this very small window of relatively 'good' weather and then try to identify key parameters of impact of Arctic oil explorations and global warming in their lives. The key contributions were from the accounts of the local people like ‘Baba’ who stay harmoniously with the bears. This key data would reveal how they feel about the bears who have adapted over time and any major changes in attitude and movements.
It was noted that polar bears are already near a village named Kaktovik gorging themselves on a whale carcass that was hunted by the eskimoes of the island village. I was well-prepared to document and film them in this hostile weather. Sadly due to gusts of winds of around 53kph and snow shadow constantly of around 3inches, things ahead look very bleak at one of time. Our charter flights had been cancelled due to the flood runway and our expeditions were on an uncertain future.
At last we reach Barter Island and we were on the motorboat with one of the best in the field- Rob Thompson. We ventured into the open ocean to reach the barrier reefs where the polar bears dominate. When we reached the spot, the ocean waves were fumed up and were dashing on the shoreline. We saw a big of 10 polarbears all resting among the drift wood protected from the strong winds of the North.
Time stood still as we watching them cuddle up on each other and slept in total comfort. A family of a mother and two cubs remained close knit and played in the water as we watched them. A life time moment indeed!
As sea ice is melting at a rapid rate due to global warming and climate change, natural prey – seals are becoming too difficult to catch thus compelling the bears to feed on whale remains and stay close to man. Last season there were around 80 bears concentrated in the island which force tough competition. Birth rate is less due to scarcity of food and thus the Beaufort Sea population is not performing well. It is estimated that if the same trend persists the entire Beaufort Sea sub-population would be extinct in the next 50 years!
More stories are coming soon......
Other Arctic Fauna....